A political tip sheet for the rest of us

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By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012:

WHAT HAPPENED:

BRING ME YOUR POOR: A day after regaining campaign momentum with a Florida rout, Mitt Romney gave his critics more ammunition with which to paint him as insensitive. He clumsily said he's most concerned about the struggling middle class. "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling. You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus," Romney said. His critics pounced. The president's campaign manager tweeted about the comment and Newt Gingrich, the big loser in Florida, used the opportunity to declare himself "fed up with politicians in either party dividing Americans against each other."

BRING ME YOUR POOR, PART II: Ron Paul outlined his views on immigration in greater detail than he has before. He said he favors a compassionate policy that doesn't rely on "barbed-wire fences and guns on our border" and blasted politicians who blame immigrants for the country's economic problems. Paul said people who enter the country illegally should be punished but said he opposes any effort to round people up and ship them away. The libertarian-leaning Texas congressman is also against laws passed in some states that require immigrants to carry proof of legal status. He said he doesn't want to live in a country that requires people to carry identity papers. Paul addressed a Hispanic community group in Las Vegas.

BRING ME YOUR POOR, PART III: Romney reiterated support for automatic increases in the federal minimum wage to keep up with inflation, a position that puts him at odds with traditional GOP business allies, conservatives and senior lawmakers in the party. As a candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney said he supported minimum wage increases in line with inflation. He told reporters Tuesday that "I haven't changed my thoughts on that." He did not say whether he would ask Congress to approve such a change if he wins the White House. Congress first enacted minimum wage legislation in 1938. The current rate is $7.25 an hour for covered workers. It has never been allowed to rise automatically.

SANTORUM'S SOUTHVEST: After Rick Santorum invited reporters to ride with him on his chartered campaign plane, the question came quickly: What to call it? In Las Vegas on Tuesday night, as Santorum discussed the Florida results on cable TV, his traveling press corps settled down with pizza for sustenance and Twitter for inspiration. Some ideas for what to call Santorum's plane played on his affinity for sweater vests or his name, with such offerings as "Sleeve Force None" or "Rickshaw One." The winning moniker came from a Twitter follower of AP political reporter Philip Elliott: "SouthVest" — a play on Santorum's low-dollar campaign, similar to discount airline Southwest. After his final TV hit of the night, a friend told Santorum that reporters had christened his plane. "And?" he asked. Elliott shared the news. "That actually hurts," Santorum said, looking disappointed. Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, dubbed her husband's campaign plane "Hair Force One" in honor of his seemingly always perfect hair.

POCKETBOOK POLITICS:

HOUSING HELP: President Barack Obama offered new help for homeowners struggling to pay burdensome mortgages. He wants Congress to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their loans to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates. Obama wants to pay for the estimated $5 billion to $10 billion cost by asking lawmakers to impose new fees on the nation's largest banks. That proposal has failed to win support in Congress, even when Obama's Democrats controlled both houses. The resonates in states like Nevada and Florida that have faced record numbers of foreclosures and will be decisive in determining whether Obama gets a second term or whether a Republican moves into the White House in 2013. Obama's proposal would not apply to borrowers who are behind on their mortgage payments, the group of homeowners most threatened by foreclosure.

UPCOMING CONTESTS:

— Feb. 4: Nevada GOP caucuses

— Feb. 7: Colorado GOP caucuses, Minnesota GOP caucuses, Missouri primary (nonbinding)

— Feb. 11: Maine GOP caucuses

— Feb. 25 Northern Mariana Islands GOP caucuses (tentative)

— Feb. 28 Arizona, Michigan primaries

MILESTONES:

— Ron Paul and wife, Carol, celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. He told a Las Vegas crowd that he let her sleep in and ordered her a room-service breakfast. They planned to celebrate by seeing a performance of the theater hit, "Phantom of the Opera."

IN THEIR WORDS:

— "I guess Speaker Gingrich doesn't have our phone number." — Romney, speculating on why he did not receive a congratulatory telephone call from Gingrich after the Florida primary.

— "If Newt's out of the race, all of his votes come to me." — Santorum.

— "I am running to be the president of all the American people and I am concerned about all the American people." — Gingrich, in response to Romney's comments about the poorest Americans.

— "The one thing I have resisted and condemned: I do not believe that barbed-wire fences and guns on our border will solve any of our problems." — Paul, on illegal immigration.

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